Early Christian Art

Early Christian Art

            Growing up Christian, we learned all about Jesus and how Christianity came to be.  Now, I understand how the early Christians worshiped in secret, what iconography they "borrowed" from Paganism and how it has lasted for over 2 millennia and will continue. 

            When early Christians, the practitioners before Constantine "legalized" Christianity, they had to meet and worship in secret, or face persecution.  One way they communicated was through pictures and early art.  Scholars today sometimes have a difficult time deciphering some of this art, because early Pagan art could have been actually Christian, or vice versa.  Some of the symbols or icons early Christians borrowed were the good shepherd, a lamb or sheep and a peacock. Most ironically, early pictures of Jesus are painted to look like the young, Greek god Apollo.  (biblicalarchaeology.org).  Very early art has been found in tombs that were actually very public, and others in more secret locations they would have met in.  I feel the lasting legacy concerning borrowed iconography from Paganism has been the sheep.  In Paganism, they were sacrificed to the gods to pay homage and appease them.  Christianity took this symbolism and applied it to Jesus, who became the "Lamb of God", or the "Sacrificial Lamb".

            Christian art in Rome at that time was questionable, because of the idea of no idol worship.  It seems they simply took existing pictures and drawings and made them their own. However, because Pagans and Romans in general freely displayed art and drawings, early Christians overcame the worry of idol worship in paintings and became concerned with actual meeting and worshiping. It seemed they wanted to celebrate their faith and slowly but surely used Pagan and Roman style symbolism and iconography within their own artwork to signal amongst themselves and to the public, but in secret. Using existing Pagan symbols, holidays, pictures and celebrations allowed early Christians to bring themselves into the light, but with the option of plausible denyability. So, once Christianity became legal, the tables turned and Paganism used iconography to show who they were.  Ironic huh? 

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